Practical Exercise continued

“This morning?” I asked. She nodded. My father said that gossip is the only form of communication that can travel through space in negative time.  Here I was seeing it.  “This fellow from Violet House? Harold Fourbridge? Tall, black hair, loud voice, already into his beer, shoulder patch that looks like a very stylized flower, light-weight sword with a not-very-good sharpness spell, and two friends who stopped him?”

“You heard about it already!” Adrian nodded enthusiastically. “That’s wonderful!  It’s really good to know that we have new students who plug themselves into the gossip network that quickly. That’s an important aspect of being a successful governor, after all, cultivating sources.  Are you sure you aren’t interested in Governance? As was written by Arminius Minimus in his thirty-six volume Shorter Essay on Proper Governance, the cultivation of…”

At some point in the next few paragraphs, Adrian lapsed from Common Speech into the Elder Tongue without slowing down or losing track of his phrasing.  His command of Elder was truly impressive.

“Adrian, love,” Rebecca said, “I think you just missed the point. The young lady facing the Fourbridge idiot was you, Adara, wasn’t it?”

“My father warned me about freshman hazing attacks being covered by the unlimited self-defense rule,” I said. “He also taught me the legal definition of riot.  That applied if all three of them attacked me, which they did not .  If you hear their names mentioned, the two guys who grabbed him were obviously embarrassed. Also, I did not have an enchanted sword, it was a gnothdiar, and I had considerably more than two spells at hand, not to mention the ward the character walked into.”

Gnothdiar?  You could have killed him,” Rebecca said.  “And his friends if you weren’t careful.”

“He deserved it,” Adrian said. “That fellow has been a permanent nuisance as long as he’s been here.  He keeps using his family — his mother is a High Justiciar of the Great Judicial Court — to get away with things. We finally set our house wards to treat him as a hostile barbarian. After his first experience with the new wards, he hasn’t been back.”

“Is he actually competent?” I asked. “When he’s sober, I mean.” After all, I thought, some people do keep grudges.

“He’s a serious combat duelist,” Adrian said. “Off campus, of course.  He has, divine beings protect us, several duelling kills, any number of kills of unmen near his family estates, and had to pay weregild for on-campus events.”

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Practical Exercise — Gray House


On House Way, my first stop was Gray House.  It did not live up to its name. Whatever stone it had been built from, it was now painted in bright colors. If some color had been overlooked, it must’ve been an accident. The balusters on the porch railings were milled spirals, no two the same. You could easily tell that the cross-section was a hexagon, because the six sides of the spiral were painted six different colors. Dad had warned me that repainting the outside of the house was viewed as an important task for the House’s new members. The grounds were surrounded by a low fence, the front gate having an arch and two formal iron latticework doors, both open.  The walk to the front door curved left and right, its stone pavers surrounded by a deep green ground cover I didn’t recognize. Crossing the threshold, I felt a gentle ward probe me, probe me enough that whoever had cast it could tell I was wearing enchanted clothing and had something fairly potent across my back.

The House’s front door swung open before I reached it. Okay, someone inside was actually paying attention to their House’s wards.  Two people, a fellow and a gal who were obviously in the middle of passing from young adult to adult age, came out. 

“Peace be unto you,” I said. “And to the House of Social Wisdom.”  The latter was not a secret password, but it was supposed to establish I was related to a House member, namely my father.

“And to you also,” the fellow said. “I’m Adrian Chalmers, and this is my fiance, Rebecca Stone.”

“I’m Adara, Adara of House Triskittenion,” I explained. “My father once lived here. He asked me to stop and say hello, so soon as I reached the Academy. My father said to say his nickname was Eats Always Slowly. But he refused to tell me the story behind the name.”

“Your father?” Rebecca answered in surprise.  “Eats Always Slowly was House Rector for a decade. Are you here to claim his place? You’d be entitled to his rooms.”

I shook my head. “My two older brothers are already into Governance. That only works because Heath prefers provincial studies and Moore prefers financial operations. No, I’m just here to say hello, and promise that Dad still remembers this House.”

“Did you have a House in mind yet?” Adrian asked. “We couldn’t turn you away, but Gray House really is focused on people looking to rise into Governance.”

“That’s very kind of you,” I said. “No, I’m interested in General Magic. Not Construction, General Magic. So far as I can tell, there isn’t a General Magic House.  Is there?”

“Construction Folks tend not to look down their noses at their General Magic aspects,” Adrian offered.

Rebecca shook her head. “I think there was, once upon a time, but not in recent millennia. The closest you can get is one of the Army Houses.  They all think new spells are cool, especially ones that destroy things.  At the moment they’re all in a commotion. One of the less-well-advised members of Violet House decided to revive the ancient forbidden custom of beating up freshmen who weren’t properly armed. Apparently his first victim pulled an enchanted sword on him and had a couple of spells set on her left hand, ready to launch.  His friends say if they hadn’t intervened she would have flattened him. Now the Proctors are preparing to send the fellow on his way, at least for a century or two.” “This morning?” I asked. She nodded. My father said that gossip is the only form of communication that can travel through space in negative time.  Here I was seeing it.

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Practical Exercise continued

“Construction?” he suggested.

I shook my head. Construction is the major application of General Magic, setting up spells to build things, notably things that we trade with unmen in other places.   Setting the spells to make really good lenses sounds interesting, but after a while it gets very dull.  I should know.  I’d spent hours a day doing precision spellwork, preparing to pay for my stay here.  It’s amazing how many places think font blocks are valuable. Admittedly, learning to replicate accurately type faces for odd syllabaries took a lot of work, sharpening both your skills and your power levels, especially when the individual type pieces were to be formed from starsteel, used to form moulds for cast lead type, but it was still dull.   

 “No,” I said, “I’m actually interested in General Magic. I had a schedule laid out.” I pulled from my satchel a sheet listing subjects for this year and later directions. Construction spells, after all, I could perfectly well learn at home.   Some House member would occasionally visit Dorrance to find out if anyone had created something really new, an event that had not happened in several millennia. 

Jackson looked at my chart, nodded politely to himself, then compared with a checklist.  “You’re certainly well organized,” he finally said. “Much more so than most students.  Half of them wouldn’t know a degree requirement if it bit them in the ass.” I decided to ignore his language. “There aren’t many students headed for General Magic.” He looked at a schedule.  “Indeed, most of you share a table at Miller’s Refectory, a not extremely large table, often with a General Magic faculty member.  That’s about two hours from now.” He wrote a couple of notes on a scrap of paper.  “That’s the refectory and table.  You may or may not be interested in an Eating House, but House Way is a reasonable path to reach Miller’s.  Oh, yes, don’t forget the Practical Exercise requirement, Campus Martius. You’ll get a schedule for your appearance.”

I bowed myself out of his office.

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Practical Exercise, continued

James Jubilation Jackson

The Proctor at the door to the Entrance Hall was entirely fascinated by the images I’d captured.  He took Dairen off to recover. I looked at the signs near the entrance. Apparently, you simply went to the next available faculty member and discussed your plans with him. Dad said most people had very tentative ideas about what they wanted to do or what subjects they needed to take.

I headed down the corridor, passing offices holding new students chatting with faculty members, I finally reached an office holding no students.  A young man sat at a small desk, looking out the door at me and smiling. I smiled back and made a polite bow. Dad said that was usually good etiquette with faculty, and that I would eventually learn who I should treat differently.

“I’m Junior Professor Jackson,” he announced.  “James Jubilation Jackson.”

“Adara Triskittenion.” I repeated my bow.

“Please come in.  There’s a coat hook for your cape and whatever else you are carrying. Umbrella, carryall, whatever.”  I slipped off the cape, lifted my gnothdiar’s belt over my neck, and hung it over my cape on the wall. 

Jackson stared at my sword.  “That’s substantial armament for campus,” he said. “Most students satisfy the always-armed rule with cloth for armor and a penknife for a weapon.”

“I just got here,” I answered, not quite defensively, “and the admission instructions were real emphatic I should be here immediately, even before I unpacked.”  OK, I’d somewhat ignored that instruction.  This Hall wasn’t even open when I arrived on campus.  “Besides, I’ve already had to draw it once.”

“You’ve what?” he said, dismay showing on his face.

I let my gnothdiar replay my encounter on the walk.

“The Four-Fold Way protect us,” Jackson said. “You reported this to a Proctor?” I nodded. “Good. I really thought we’d gotten rid of that behavior, but it seems to come back every so often. The fellow who waved his sword at you will soon face the stark fist of removal. In any event, as you reached me, I’m your academic procedures advisor for your time here, in case something odd comes up.  I’m actually in History. You also eventually get an academic program advisor, but usually not until second quarter.  Practical answer: I’m supposed to discuss with you your course of study, at least your preliminary course choices. The commonest choices are Governance, Trade, Medicine, or the Church.  Though, with your speed, you might be welcome in the Armed Host.”

I’m not that fast, I thought; they were drunk.  “Actually,” I said, “my interest is General Magic.” 

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Practical Exercise #5

“That rule,” Dairen stammered, “We’re not students yet, we haven’t registered.” I could hear the fear in his voice.

“That nonsense,” I said firmly, “was eliminated by the University Council a millennium ago.  You three can just take a hike.” This was a truly lousy way to start off my academic career. Dad had warned me that these things still happened, but they should very certainly not happen to an heir of House Triskittenion.  Dairen looked around, hoping for rescuers that were nowhere to be seen.

“I guess you’re first,” Fourbridge announced.   He reached for me. I still had my travel wards ready to power up.  A flare of light filled the space between us.  His next several words were quite impolite. “Okay,” he announced, “you get to do this the hard way.” He started to pull his sword. I could see some not extremely impressive enchantments floating across it.

He began his draw first, but I finished my draw before he finished his.  OK, he was sloshed, and I am always stone cold sober.   My gnothdiar was in my right hand, my right leg forward. My left leg was back, braced, with my left hand above it in a casting pose.   I could feel the tingle of the readied void nodes in my wrists. 

“Be a good boy,” I said, very slowly and quietly, “put away your butter knife, and be on your way.”  Dairen had slipped to his left, so he was now completely behind me.  I’d have preferred he stayed to my side, so if something completely stupid happened, the odds would appear to be three to two rather than three to one. OK, I suspected that he would be of no value in a combat situation.  I’ve been trained on one-on-several combat, but these three were all a head taller than I am, and considerably heavier.   On the other hand, they were drunk.  I could smell the beer on their breaths. 

“Listen, you…” He started. He knew a remarkable number of impolite words.

“You drew on me. Continue, or put your toy away.” I was now thoroughly annoyed.  His face was ruddy.  I loaded my left hand with a stack of combat spells, one extremely powerful.  His two friends stepped behind him and grabbed his arms. One of them looked at me, winked, shook his head, and rolled his eyes. They assisted him from the scene.

Dairen was in tears. “This was supposed to be a nice place, a wonderful place to study,” he said, barely able to remain coherent.

“It is a nice place, especially once classes start,” I said. “There are supposed to be proctors and lictors to keep the peace.” I sheathed my gnothdiar and lowered my combat wards.  Now my hands were shaking.   I’d ramped up to combat mode without even thinking about it. And I’d done it right.  Muscles and spells were at the ready, but I had been completely calm.  “When we get to the Entrance Hall I’ll have to chat one up.” I tapped the hilt of my gnothdiar.  One of its spells had indeed stored images of the event.  That sorted out who would have started the fight, not that I had any interest in fighting.

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Practical Exercise #4

Soon enough I would walk over to Ellwood Hall, then find a refectory for lunch. The rules said we were expected to eat in a refectory, unless we joined an eating club or moved into a residential house. Unless the food was totally bad, I certainly was not going to do my own cooking, even ignoring that I was not supposed to cook extensively in the townhouse.  That’s a total waste of time.

The hour for entrance interviews arrived.  Dorrance Academy was covered with paved walks.  Almost every student could gate from building to building, but there were too many people in too small an area for gating to be safe. Taking the trail toward the Campus Martius, I soon encountered another, slightly-confused-looking, first year student. 

 “I’m Dairen of Charlemont,” he announced.  He put his nose back into his map.

“Adara Triskittenion,” I replied.   “Are you heading to the Entrance Hall?” He nodded. “It’s down this path.” I pointed.  “Do you have a course of study in mind yet?” I asked.

“General Magic-Construction,” he answered. “I’m from Almasi, way south.”

“General Magic? That’s my planned course, too,” I answered.

“I already have my major research project in mind,” he announced.  “I’m going to measure the size of the Purple Sea.”  He went on at some length. The Purple Sea is a place you can go when you shallow-gate.  You gate to the sea, walk a modest ways, and gate back, considerably away from where you started. There’s this great debate about whether the Purple Sea is actually the surface of some enormously huge sphere, or whether it’s flat and goes on forever. He wanted to settle the question.   Listening to him, I realized he had no idea how to do it. He just knew what he wanted to do.

Halfway down the walk, three fellows emerged from behind a hedge. They were more than a bit noisy.  I’d say they were singing, except they made yowling tomcats sound melodic.   Their gait said that they were drunk.  Then I recognized the one in front.  It was Harold Fourbridge.

“Ooh, firsties,” he crooned as they approached. “No armor, no sword, so you each get a paddling.” Dad had warned me about that custom. Upperclassman to some extent harassed lower-class students, meaning in particular first-year-students like me. “You get to cooperate, or you get paddled twice,” the jackass continued.

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Practical Exercise #3

Work is underway on this novel, which links to the Eclipse series. It is a novel about academic life, not a combat novel, though there is a certain amount of violence.

“Nice to meet you,” I answered cheerily.  “I’m Adara Triskittenion.”

“We are Harold Fourbridge.  You may walk behind me, like all my other girlfriends.”  He marched on by.  I probably should not have giggled.  I decline to believe that a young adult is old enough to have real girlfriends.  However, he was well taller than I am.  He might be one of those boys who tamper with their agelessness spells until girlfriends are possible.  He appeared to be growing toward adult height and build well before he should.  Given his control of his trunks, I was happy to have him downhill of me.


Student quarters were the promised line of solidly-built well-maintained town houses, each with walk-in basement.  Living space, bedroom and bath, and study occupied the three floors above. 

The unman in the front office was happy to make clear: The buildings might be called ‘temporary’, but some students stayed for a decade or more while finishing their academic work.  He was apologetic: Other students had already reserved the services of all the porters, so I would be expected to do my own housecleaning. 

“Just like home,” I said. “Mom expected me to scrub the kitchen floor. Every week. By hand.”  He smiled and nodded approvingly.  “And if you need a wooden floor cleaned, and don’t mind spellwork, though the good spell wants water and oil soap for that wood, ask me quietly.”  He could work out ‘I do favors for you, and you return them someday.’  His smile was very wide.

I’d registered early and paid extra for an end house in Knowlton House, so my third-floor study had views in three directions.  Now that I’d seen it, I could say that the price was clearly worth it.   The furniture included several chairs, a couch, a large desk, a dresser,  an inadequate bookcase, and a circular table, all of ironwood. The study had a food preserver.  Its spellwork clearly needed some retuning. One of my trunks held a carefully folded low bed.

I had several hours before the Entrance Hall opened.  It was time for useful work. I took the minutes needed to reinforce the house wards with my own. They could be broken, but not without me knowing. Then I cast a full set of housecleaning spells on all four floors. Several times. The past resident had clearly not been heavily into cleanliness. Yes, I remembered the ceilings and the spaces within the walls, including a minor death spell for insect pests. Finally I remembered the tiny gaps between the boards in the hardwood floors.  Mom had given me a spellbook, her mother’s as it happens, with spell diagrams for the best cleaning spells. I had most of them memorized, sort of, but having the diagrams for the delicate heavy-duty spells at my fingertips, just like home, helped.

Eventually I fell back on water and cleanser for the bathroom, water and glass soap for both sides of the windows, water and soap for the window screens,  and water and oil soap for the woodwork, with spells driving them to do their duty.  Mom had made sure I’d packed all those things, the soaps in a sealed tin box, and she’d been right again, and the spells to drive cleaning agents. Yes, I do know the spells to drive cleanser in doing its duty.  House Triskittenion does not allow unmen servants in the Keep proper, so I’d been doing those for years.  That was several changes of water for each…the place had been filthy, but finally it was more-or-less clean. More passes would be needed. I could imagine doing all that by hand.  I would have needed a week, worn my fingers to the bone, and needed a bath.  Several baths.

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Practical Exercise #2

Continuing my current novel in progress, one page at a time.

Entering student interviews were in Ellwood Hall, off to the far right, just this side of the Campus Martius. Campus Martius? We were, divine beings help us, required to study martial magic. As an heir of House Triskittenion, I’d been expected to master combat sorcery. I’d tried. My tutor grumbled that I relied too much on speed and brute force. He warned that would work poorly, given that I’m a young adult, not a grown-up. Grandfather Worrow was more tolerant, not to mention more demanding. For my first single-person hunt, I brought home the heads of three night terrors. Their skulls decorate my bedroom’s walls. After my first hunt, my tutor grumbled less.

I heard a high-pitched whistle to my left.  At the neighboring entry point, someone had opened a deep gate.  The gate’s surface was black, shot through with fluorescent clouds and bursts of particolored lightning.  Through it walked someone close to my own age, well, physical age.  He came through first, so he had to have opened the gate himself. Yes, I do know how to open a deep gate. That’s one of the things you learn to do to support really high-power spells. However, I am definitely not stupid enough to walk through one.  Yes, deep gating is surely an effective way to get here in a whole hurry from far away, as opposed to what I did, taking a long series of shorter walks across the Purple Sea.  Deep gates take you into the Void, which at my age is definitely a bad place to be.  OK, some boys think they are invincible and indestructible. 

I watched as he pulled more and more of his trunks through the gate.  He wasn’t keeping that good control of his gate, enough so that the wards around my arrival point, the wards around my steamer trunks, and finally my personal wards began to flicker into activity. I’ve opened larger deep gates, with people standing there to intervene if needed (it wasn’t), but my deep gates were rock solid and completely under my control.  His gate was unstable.  Before the matter got too serious, he pulled the last of his trunks through the deep gate and closed it.

The fellow to my left was doing something that rearranged his steamer trunks into a line suitable for towing.  He could wait.  I tapped my lead trunk once to get the attention of its spellwork.  It dutifully followed me, puppy-like, as I started down the hill. School housing, until I found a proper house, was off to the left, so I would need to walk the trunks there, sign for keys, lock up my  trunks, then walk all the way across campus to be interviewed. It was good exercise.

“Look out where you’re going, you idiot!” That shout was the boy from the next entrance point,  moving faster than I’d say was sensible for someone with all those trunks behind him.  He obviously thought  that I was  in his way.  “I’m Harold of House Fourbridge, soon to be a great combat sorcerer, so you get to wait while I pass.”  He made an insulting hand gesture.  Supposedly some students try to start fights – a massively stupid behavior.   Was that what he wanted?  Or was he just being crude?

I pushed my hood back from over my head and reached behind me, my left hand tapping my trunks to stop them.  Pushing back my hood meant I had my right hand almost at the hilt of my gnothdiar, while my left hand was out of his sight, where I used it to cast a shielding ward.  I wouldn’t dream of starting a fight, but if he did my trunks were now protected from damage.

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Practical Exercise

Book 1 of Adara’s Tale

I will try to post short excerpts very regularly.

Because Academic Warfare is Deadlier Than the Other Kind

I arrive at Dorrance

My first view of Dorrance Academy was in the early morning.  The rising sun was low above the horizon.  Dawn’s rays painted the grass and trees in gorgeous shades of green-gold. The Academy’s buildings were tinged with burnished bronze and faded copper.   It must have rained last night; you could see sparkling raindrops hanging from spring flowers.  I was still chill from crossing the Purple Sea.  The sun was pleasantly warm against my cloak. Over my back, under my cape, I wore my gnothdiar, my spellcaster sword, one of whose other purposes  is to be extremely sharp.

Academy buildings were an eclectic range of every known style.  That’s every style known to us, the Timeless Ones, the Hidden Masters of such part of existence as we choose to rule.   The One Library was a vast slab of golden granite and glass brick.  Even from here, well up on a rise and a mile away, I could see the shimmer of its wards, spellwork that protected it from fire, flood, and every other imaginable disaster.  The School of Theology building was architecturally unique. It started with limestone columns and slabs, fused at one end to brickwork of rococo ornateness, merged into a mass of silver and glass, finally reaching an open court surrounded by topless columns and four quartz towers, those being the personal and staff offices of the Four Patriarchs when they were in residence, the whole thing all being one building.

I’d waited a decade and a half for this day, a decade and a half in which I knew this was what I wanted to do.  Now I was actually here.  There had been the day, a decade ago, in which I first came into my magic, meaning I could don the agelessness spell that held me unaging as a young adult.  Of course, someday I would finish here, put aside that spell, and age into a grownup, but that was an unclear time in the future, after I’d established myself as a scholar.

I’d arrived on a rise, several hundred feet above the sloping plain on which the Academy waited.  My two shipping trunks hovered behind me. The view was beautiful.  The Academy plain stepped slowly down toward the Pelnir Sea. Beaches were golden yellow.  Several large-scale enchantments meant that the water for a fair distance out from shore was supposed to be pleasantly warm and absolutely clean.  Off in the distance, around the bay from the Academy, the long white block of the New School gleamed in the sunlight.

Two decades ago, my older brothers Heath and Moore had passed through the academy.  Now I, their kid sister Adara, would follow their example. Their hard work here brought honor to our family.  I would have to work even harder to outshine their accomplishments.

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Recent writing

Readers interested in some of my more recent writing may consult non-political SF Writers Group for opening pages of Indian Summer.

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